AP NEWS

Northern California county ravaged by wildfire sues utility

January 16, 2019
FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2018 file photo, Pacific Gas & Electric crews work to restore power lines in Paradise, Calif. Facing potentially colossal liabilities over deadly California wildfires, PG&E will file for bankruptcy protection. The announcement Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, follows the resignation of the power company’s chief executive. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Northern California county where a deadly wildfire killed 86 people last year sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Tuesday, a day after the utility announced it will file for bankruptcy.

Butte County’s lawsuit blames the utility for the wildfire that sparked Nov. 8 and “effectively eradicated” the city of Paradise, California, population 27,000. The blaze destroyed nearly 15,000 homes and is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

People who lost their homes in the wildfire have already sued PG&E. The utility’s bankruptcy filing means all wildfire-related lawsuits will be consolidated and go before a bankruptcy judge, not a jury. Butte County counsel Bruce Alpert said the pending lawsuits likely would have been consolidated anyway.

Bankruptcy proceedings could result in wildfire victims not getting everything they are owed, experts say.

The county filed Tuesday to “demonstrate to the public that we’re moving forward after this horrendous occurrence in Butte County,” Alpert said. “We’re seeking the make the taxpayers of Butte County whole with respect to all of the costs and damages.”

The county is seeking damages for repair and replacement of damaged or destroyed property, loss of wages and business profits and more. The lawsuit does not outline a specific monetary amount.

The company said safety is its top concern and noted the cause of the fire hasn’t been determined. “Our focus continues to be helping our communities recover and rebuild,” spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said in a statement.

The lawsuit says PG&E equipment sparked the wildfire. State officials are still investigating what caused the blaze, but PG&E has told state regulators about issues with its equipment near one of the places the fire sparked.

The lawsuit says PG&E was negligent in operating its equipment and managing vegetation near its transmission and distribution lines. It also hits the company for failing to turn off power during weather conditions of high fire risk on the morning of the blaze. The company said in a November filing with the state Public Utilities Commission that it chose not to follow through with warnings to shut off power Nov. 8 because weather conditions no longer warranted it.